Wednesday, 20 February 2019


After watching John Ford's The Seas Beneath over Christmas (see my essay on it here), I mentioned the Argentine actress Mona Maris, who was one of the most interesting characters in that film, and who, as if by coincidence, turned out to play a part in a Falcon movie I came across, one of the few I had never before seen.

The Falcon In Mexico is one of the Tom Conway Falcons; you'll recall he replaced his brother, George Sanders, when Sanders wanted out of what Saint creator Leslie Charteris called the 'bargain-basement Saint'  series. (I wrote about the best of the series, The Falcon Takes Over, based on Raymond Chandler's Murder My Sweet, here). Sanders' Gay Lawrence was replaced by his brother's Tom Lawrence, and adjustments were made for Conway's lesser talent. It is Conway at his most hapless; RKO wanted to play the Falcon for more laffs than the Saint, and made the most of Conway's trademark double-take,which, especially when women are confusing him at the same time he is being irresistible to them, has to be see to be disbelieved.

The story is actually a fairly complicated parlour mystery, built around the murder of an art dealer in New York, and the disappearance of a new painting by an artist, Humphrey Wade, who is supposed to be dead. Lawrence had been conned into breaking into the gallery by Dolores Ybarra, a young Mexican woman who claimed to have modeled for the painting. Of course Tom now finds himself in the frame, if you'll excuse the expression, for the killing, but he goes on the lam pronto.

The trail takes him to the artist's daughter Mona (played by Martha MacVicar, soon to be renamed Martha Vickers by Warner Bros.) who is haunted, she believes, by her father's ghost, and thence to Mexico, where her father lived and worked (and which enabled RKO to use some of Orson Welles' stock shots from his never-finished Brazilian film, It's All True). There they meet Maris, playing Wade's widow, and her slick new husband Anton, who's in the Falcon's face PDQ. A Wade collector, 'Lucky Diamond' Hughes (perhaps to distinguish him from Howard Hughes?) shows up trying to chase down the stolen 'new' painting. Emory Parnell plays Hughes with a combination of bluster and sneaky greed that is delightful, if a bit embarrassing (check him out in his jammies when The Falcon breaks in on him).

Dolores soon turns up dead, so throw in the local taxi driver (Nestor Paiva), his son, the mysterious hotel clerk (Mary Currier, a kind of B move Bette Davis), cops and Dolores' father and you've got a twisty mystery that Conway struggles to solve.

Maris (second right in the photo right) is again one of the best things about the film; she has more range than most of the actors involved, though her role doesn't necessarily demand it. She gets second-billing, after Conway, and deserves that, perhaps because this was her second Falcon pic; she played in Sanders' second one, A Date With The Falcon, as the exotic femme fatale who involves him with a gang trying to get a formula for artificial diamonds, which coincidentally prevents his marriage to long-term fiance Wendy Barrie, who, for all her pizazz, isn't as interesting as Maris.

Paiva as Manuel, the taxi driver (center in the picture above), does a nice job of insinuating more than the usual Mexican cliches in his role, but the hidden star is MacVicar (left). She seems to be sleepwalking through much of the movie, but then, when the mystery becomes clear, you realise that has been the effect of his haunting--and the closing scenes when he is 'herself' again her vitality jumps off the screen. It is no surprise Warners had things in mind for her, and it was her bad luck to have her part in The Big Sleep reduced when the film was re-edited to emphasize the Bogart-Bacall relationship, following their success in To Have And Have Not. I wrote about that for Crime Time many years ago, perhaps I'll need to revisit the piece myself. In the meantime, this is a fun episode of the Falcon series, helped by the setting and especially by the two actress leads.

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